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The Swan Thieves

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Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French ...
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The Swan Thieves: A Novel

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Overview

Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.

Kostova's masterful new novel travels from American cities to the coast of Normandy, from the late 19th century to the late 20th, from young love to last love. THE SWAN THIEVES is a story of obsession, history's losses, and the power of art to preserve human hope.
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Editorial Reviews

Donna Rifkind
The many ardent admirers of The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova's 2005 first novel, will be happy to learn that her second book offers plenty of the same pleasures. Like The Historian, the new novel ranges across a variety of richly described international locales, both antique and modern. There is once again an assortment of narratives, all of which converge to solve a central mystery. Kostova again pays punctilious attention to the details of her characters' working lives (archival scholarship in the first book, painting in the second). And although the two novels' subjects are worlds apart, there is a shared romantic premise, in which the past is forever imposing itself onto the present, the dead onto the living.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
A painting has been attacked at the National Gallery of Art, and the assailant—Robert Oliver, a painter of notoriety in his own right—isn't speaking. It is left to psychiatrist Andrew Marlow—a hobbyist painter himself—to unravel the puzzle of Robert's manic behavior. With a mysterious packet of letters and the testimony of Robert's ex-wife and ex-girlfriend as guides, Marlow dives into a mystery of romance and impressionist art dating back to late 19th-century France. Love and obsession are the primary themes of Kostova's long-awaited second novel (after The Historian), which stretches across three centuries and renders just the right amount of drama. The luxurious artistic detail and richly drawn characters will pull in readers, who will be hard-pressed to stop turning pages. VERDICT Fans of Richard Matheson's What Dreams May Come and Somewhere in Time, both explorations of love across time and space, and readers of Tracy Chevalier and Audrey Niffenegger will enjoy Kostova's strong sophomore effort, which is sure to be a best seller and a suitable choice for book clubs. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/09; nine-city author tour.]—Leigh Wright, Bridgewater, NJ\
Kirkus Reviews
Kostova follows up her blockbuster debut about the undead (The Historian, 2005) with a romance about a contemporary painter's obsession with an undiscovered 19th-century Impressionist. After he attempts to slash the painting Leda at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., respected artist Robert Oliver is committed to a mental hospital under the care of psychiatrist Andrew Marlow (think Heart of Darkness). A painter himself, Marlow is fascinated by his patient, who refuses to speak and paints the same dark-haired woman over and over. "When I asked him whether he was sketching from imagination or drawing a real person," Marlow remembers, "he ignored me more pointedly than ever." Then Robert lends Marlow a package of letters written in the late 1870s by aspiring painter Beatrice de Clerval Vignot to her husband's uncle Olivier Vignot, an established artist at the Paris Salon. Knowing he is stretching professional boundaries, Marlow goes to North Carolina to visit Robert's charming, pragmatic ex-wife and tracks down the spirited painter Mary Bertison, with whom Robert later lived in D.C. Both women loved the artist and felt they lost him to the woman in the painting. Marlow himself falls increasingly under Beatrice's spell as he reads letters tracing her growing feelings for Uncle Olivier. The psychiatrist, a 52-year-old bachelor, is also drawn to Mary despite the questionable professional ethics of dating a patient's ex-girlfriend. With Robert tucked away painting his Beatrice in silence, Marlow travels to Mexico with Mary, then alone to Paris to trace the life of the real Beatrice and track down her secret paintings of swans; short chapters set in 1879 reveal what happened to her and herwork. Kostova's theme is creative obsession and what everyday boundaries can be broken in its name; the novel seems to favor the most romantic answer. Neither Robert's decisions nor Marlow's make a lot of sense, but lush prose and abundant drama will render logic beside the point for most readers. Author tour to New York, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Raleigh, Seattle, Portland, Ore.
Washington Post
"The many ardent admirers of The Historian will be happy to learn that The Swan Thieves offers plenty of the same pleasures."
Associated Press Staff
"A must-read for lovers of historical fiction....The Swan Thieves shows the same meticulous historical research and scene-setting description that elevated The Historian from a vampire tale to a work of art."
Denver Post
"A compelling story....Fans of The Historian have been waiting a long time for a new work from Kostova. They won't be disappointed."
BookPage
"Kostova's eloquent prose possesses the power to both transport and inspire."
Entertainment Weekly
"Kostova knows how to craft a breathless ending."
Library Journal
Renowned American painter Robert Oliver sits in a private psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Andrew Marlowe, who must understand the story not only of Oliver's past but of his wife, mistress, and mysterious muse if he is to understand Oliver's obsessive portraitures and disturbing attack of a painting at the National Gallery of Art. Kostova's (www.theswanthieves.com) masterfully written, complex, and compelling tale is reminiscent in tone to her previous novel, the No. 1 New York Times best seller The Historian (2005), also available from Books on Tape and Random Audio and currently being adapted to film. The narration, too, is brilliantly executed, by a cast including Treat Williams, Anne Heche, Erin Cottrell, Sarah Zimmerman, and John Lee. Sure to be a hit with lovers of art (specifically, French Impressionism) and historical fiction as well as fans of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring. [See Major Audio Releases, LJ 12/09; the Little, Brown hc also received a starred review, LJ 11/1/09.—Ed.]—Lisa Anderson, Metropolitan Community Coll. Lib., Omaha
The Barnes & Noble Review
Elizabeth Kostova's 2005 debut, The Historian, is one of those bestsellers that confirm the unpredictability of the reading public's taste. Nothing about the novel operates according to established formula. It is a vampire story without gore or brooding passions, a historical thriller without much in the way of action. The facts in it (and despite the supernatural premise, there is a lot of history in The Historian) are rigorously researched and unsensationalized. Unlike most contemporary authors who claim to be inspired by the 19th-century novel, Kostova actually hews pretty close to the Victorian model; her narrative unfolds at a pace that can only be called sedate. There are no grabby openers or flashy twists. She has placed her faith in the conviction that readers are pleased to sink slowly into a novel, until the world it conjures has closed over their heads, submerging them entirely.

The marvel of The Historian is that this earnest and antiquated strategy actually works, in no small part due to Kostova's gift for atmosphere. You shiver amid the firs of her primeval Carpathian forests and taste the chalky dust of her Languedoc mountains at the back of your throat. Reading her descriptions of Oxford and Istanbul is like taking a three-paragraph vacation. This sensual immediacy and the languidness of the plot combine to summon a mood of genuine dread, as the novel's inexorable, waxen-faced villain emerges from the shadows at its core.

In her second novel, The Swan Thieves, Kostova starts with less promising material. Superficially, the book belongs to that genre of contemporary fiction that spins out back stories for famous paintings, usually about how the artist was secretly in love with his model. And while painters cut decidedly more romantic figures than the scholars of The Historian, the settings where Kostova places her artists -- Washington, D.C., a college town in North Carolina and a drab resort on the Normandy coast -- lack the wild mystery of Bulgaria and Southern France.

The narrator of The Swan Thieves is Andrew Marlow, a middle-aged psychiatrist who becomes personally entangled in the case of a new patient at the private residential center where he works. The patient is Robert Oliver, a 42-year-old artist of burgeoning reputation who gets arrested for trying to slash a painting at the National Gallery. After a brief conversation with Marlow, Robert refuses to speak, occupying his hours with poring over a cache of old letters and drawing and painting endless portraits of an unidentified dark-haired woman dressed in 19th-century clothes.

Readers will immediately surmise that the woman depicted in Robert's art is one of the letter writers, Beatrice de Clerval, the young wife of a French postal official and a talented painter of the nascent Impressionist school. Her correspondent is her husband's uncle, also a painter. Robert is obviously in love with Beatrice, who died 40 years before he was born, but why this should have led him to attack a canvas by yet another painter, Gilbert Thomas, who was also Beatrice's art dealer, remains a puzzle until the end of the book. It takes Marlow much, much longer to figure out the identity of Robert's dark lady than it ought to, but perhaps that's because he doesn't realize he's in a novel about obsessive artists and love that transcends time.

Marlow persuades Robert to lend him the letters, and a friend begins sending translations one by one through the mail as the doctor interviews Robert's ex-wife and former lover about his patient's past. What starts out as marginally ethical investigation soon lapses into a series of major professional transgressions, a parallel to the blossoming of Beatrice's adulterous love for her correspondent, Olivier Vignot. Eventually, the translated letters morph into Marlow's full-fledged imaginings of Beatrice and Olivier's forbidden affair, interspersed with first-person accounts by Robert's wife and lover of their despair in loving a man whose heart is always at least partly somewhere else. Once The Swan Thieves gets fully underway, it becomes a braid of three narratives, set in the present, the recent past, and the late 1870s.

The Swan Thieves is a ghost story without a ghost. A likely model is Wuthering Heights, in which the sins of one generation resurface, along with slightly shuffled names and romantic configurations, in the generations that follow. Stolen letters, May-December affairs, infidelity, and frustrated artistic ambitions keep recurring in the various time periods, but so, more enigmatically, do certain tiny details: a hat with blue flowers and a biography of Isaac Newton. The problem that nettles each of the characters is the conflict between life and art, epitomized by a single question: Why did Beatrice abandon painting just as it was becoming clear that she was a major talent? Was it merely to devote herself to raising a much-longed-for child, or was the cause more sinister?

Furthermore, how much love can a great artist truly spare for the people around him? "There was a chilliness about him," Robert's lover recalls, "a cold eye under his warm-colored skin and smile.... There was no effort in this, no struggle in him not to compromise for personal reasons." Yet he is also blissfully unselfconscious, "he simply didn't know how not to be himself," and this makes him fatally attractive to a certain type of woman. To fall in love with such a man is to embrace, wittingly or not, solitude; Robert's isolation is contagious. If the prevailing mood of The Historian was gothic foreboding, then here it's the claustrophobia and solipsism of obsession -- whether amorous or artistic -- the way it slides in and out of madness like a phantom hovering between life and death. Robert is, in his way, as much a monster, as undead, as Dracula.

Despite replicating some of the flaws of The Historian, The Swan Thieves also exerts a good bit of the earlier book's hypnotic thrall. Those flaws -- the proliferating descriptions, the extremely leisurely doling out of plot, the handful of inconsistencies and loose ends (Why does Robert stop talking, for example?) -- are the sorts of things that bother you later, after you've ditched friends and family to stay up past your bedtime reading, for reasons you can't quite explain. Storytellers are the artists who make monsters of us all. --Laura Miller

Laura Miller helped to co-found Salon.com in 1995 and is currently a staff writer at that publication. Her reviews and articles appear in The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. She is the author of The Magician's Book (2008) and the editor of The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors (Penguin, 2000).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781607886693
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio
  • Publication date: 11/3/2010
  • Format: CD
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 2.15 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Kostova

Elizabeth Kostova is the author of the international bestseller The Historian. She graduated from Yale and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won the Hopwood Award for the Novel-in-Progress.

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First Chapter

The Swan Thieves

A Novel
By Kostova, Elizabeth

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2010 Kostova, Elizabeth
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316065788

CHAPTER 1

Marlow

I got the call about Robert Oliver in April 1999, less than a week after he’d pulled a knife in the nineteenth-century collection at the National Gallery. It was a Tuesday, one of those terrible mornings that sometimes come to the Washington area when spring has already been flowery and even hot—ruinous hail and heavy skies, with rumbles of thunder in the suddenly cold air. It was also, by coincidence, exactly a week after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado; I was still thinking obsessively about that event, as I imagined every psychiatrist in the country must have been. My office seemed full of those young people with their sawed-off shotguns, their demonic resentment. How had we failed them and—even more—their innocent victims? The violent weather and the country’s gloom seemed to me fused that morning.

When my phone rang, the voice on the other end was that of a friend and colleague, Dr. John Garcia. John is a fine man—and a fine psychiatrist—with whom I went to school long ago and who takes me out for lunch now and then at the restaurant of his choice, seldom allowing me to pay. He does emergency intake and inpatient care in one of Washington’s biggest hospitals and, like me, also sees private patients.

John was telling me now that he wanted to transfer a patient to me, to put him in my care, and I could hear the eagerness in his voice. “This guy could be a difficult case. I don’t know what you’ll make of him, but I’d prefer for him to be under your care at Goldengrove. Apparently he’s an artist, a successful one—he got himself arrested last week, then brought to us. He doesn’t talk much and doesn’t like us much, here. His name is Robert Oliver.”

“I’ve heard of him, but I don’t really know his work,” I admitted. “Landscapes and portraits—I think he was on the cover of ARTnews a couple of years ago. What did he do to get arrested?” I turned to the window and stood, watching hail fall like expensive white gravel over the walled back lawn and a battered magnolia. The grass was already very green, and for a second there was watery sunlight over everything, then a fresh burst of hail.

“He tried to attack a painting in the National Gallery. With a knife.”

“A painting? Not a person?”

“Well, apparently there was no one else in the room at that moment, but a guard came in and saw him lunging for a painting.”

“Did he put up a fight?” I watched hail sowing itself in the bright grass.

“Yes. He eventually dropped the knife on the floor, but then he grabbed the guard and shook him up pretty badly. He’s a big man. Then he stopped and let himself just be led away, for some reason. The museum is trying to decide whether or not to press assault charges. I think they’re going to drop, but he took a big risk.”

I studied the backyard again. “National Gallery paintings are federal property, right?”

“Right.”

“What kind of knife was it?”

“Just a pocketknife. Nothing dramatic, but he could have done a lot of damage. He was very excited, thought he was on a heroic mission, and then broke down at the station, said he hadn’t slept in days, even cried a little. They brought him over to the psych ER, and I admitted him.” I could hear John waiting for my answer.

“How old is this guy?”

“He’s young—well, forty-three, but that sounds young to me these days, you know?” I knew, and laughed. Turning fifty just two years before had shocked us both, and we’d covered it by celebrating with several friends who were in the same situation.

“He had a couple of other things on him, too—a sketchbook and a packet of old letters. He won’t let anyone else touch them.”

“So what do you want me to do for him?” I found myself leaning against the desk to rest; I’d come to the end of a long morning, and I was hungry.

“Just take him,” John said.

But the habits of caution run deep in our profession. “Why? Are you trying to give me additional headaches?”

“Oh, come on.” I could hear John smiling. “I’ve never known you to turn a patient away, Dr. Dedication, and this one should be worth your while.”

“Because I’m a painter?”

He hesitated only a beat. “Frankly, yes. I don’t pretend to understand artists, but I think you’ll get this guy. I told you he doesn’t talk much, and when I say he doesn’t talk much, I mean I’ve gotten maybe three sentences out of him. I think he’s switching into depression, in spite of the meds we started him on. He also shows anger and has periods of agitation. I’m worried about him.”

I considered the tree, the emerald lawn, the scattered melting hailstones, again the tree. It stood a little to the left of center, in the window, and the darkness of the day had given its mauve and white buds a brightness they didn’t have when the sun shone. “What do you have him on?”

John ran through the list: a mood stabilizer, an antianxiety drug, and an antidepressant, all at good doses. I picked up a pen and pad from my desk.

“Diagnosis?”

John told me, and I wasn’t surprised. “Fortunately for us, he signed a release of information in the ER while he was still talking. We’ve also just gotten copies of records from a psychiatrist in North Carolina he saw about two years ago. Apparently the last time he saw anybody.”

“Does he have significant anxiety?”

“Well, he won’t talk about it, but I think he shows it. And this isn’t his first round of meds, according to the file. In fact, he arrived here with some Klonopin in a two-year-old bottle in his jacket. It probably wasn’t doing him much good without a mood stabilizer on board. We finally got hold of the wife in North Carolina—ex-wife, actually—and she told us some more about his past treatments.”

“Suicidal?”

“Possibly. It’s hard to do a proper assessment, since he won’t talk. He hasn’t attempted anything here. He’s more like enraged. It’s like keeping a bear in a cage—a silent bear. But with this kind of presentation, I don’t want to just release him. He’s got to stay somewhere for a while, have someone figure out what’s really going on, and his meds will need fine-tuning. He did sign in voluntarily, and I bet he’ll go pretty willingly at this point. He doesn’t like it here.”

“So you think I can get him to talk?” It was our old joke, and John rose obligingly to it.

“Marlow, you could get a stone to talk.”

“Thanks for the compliment. And thanks especially for messing up my lunch break. Does he have insurance?”

“Some. The social worker is on that.”

“All right—have him brought out to Goldengrove. Tomorrow at two, with the files. I’ll check him in.”

We hung up, and I stood there wondering if I could squeeze in five minutes of sketching while I ate, which I like to do when my schedule is heavy; I still had a one thirty, a two o’clock, a three o’clock, a four o’clock, and then a meeting at five o’clock. And tomorrow I would put in a ten-hour day at Goldengrove, the private residential center where I’d worked for the previous twelve years. Now I needed my soup, my salad, and the pencil under my fingers for a few minutes.

I thought, too, of something I had forgotten about for a long time, although I used to remember it often. When I was twenty-one, freshly graduated from Columbia (which had filled me with history and English as well as science) and headed already for medical school at the University of Virginia, my parents volunteered enough money to help me go with my roommate to Italy and Greece for a month. It was my first time out of the United States. I was electrified by paintings in Italian churches and monasteries, by the architecture of Florence and Siena. On the Greek island of Páros, which produces the most perfect, translucent marble in the world, I found myself alone in a local archaeological museum.

This museum had only one statue of value, which stood in a room by itself. Herself: she was a Nike, about five feet tall, in battered pieces, with no head or arms, and with scars on her back where she’d once sprouted wings, red stains on the marble from her long entombment in the island earth. You could still see her masterful carving, the draperies like an eddy of water over her body. They had reattached one of her little feet. I was alone in the room, sketching her, when the guard came in for a moment to shout, “Close soon!” After he left, I packed up my drawing kit, and then—without any thought of the consequences—I approached the Nike one last time and bent to kiss her foot. The guard was on me in a second, roaring, actually collaring me. I’ve never been thrown out of a bar, but that day I was thrown out of a one-guard museum.

I picked up the phone and called John back, caught him still in his office.

“What was the painting?”

“What?”

“The painting that your patient—Mr. Oliver—attacked.”

John laughed. “You know, I wouldn’t have thought of asking that, but it was included in the police report. It’s called Leda. A Greek myth, I guess. At least that’s what comes to mind. The report said it was a painting of a naked woman.”

“One of Zeus’s conquests,” I said. “He came to her in the form of a swan. Who painted it?”

“Oh, come on—you’re making this feel like Art History 125. Which I almost failed, by the way. I don’t know who painted it and I doubt the arresting officer did either.”

“All right. Get back to work. Have a good day, John,” I said, trying to uncrick my neck and hold the receiver at the same time.

“And you, my friend.”



Continues...

Excerpted from The Swan Thieves by Kostova, Elizabeth Copyright © 2010 by Kostova, Elizabeth. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted November 18, 2009

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    Excellent, multilayered novel.

    If you've read Kostova's first novel, The Historian, then you know she likes to tell a long story; and you know that it will be rich, and deep, and full of life and mystery and intrigue and suspense. If you haven't read The Historian then I highly recommend it. The good news is that you can get it now, whereas The Swan Thieves will not be released until January 12, 2010. I actually feel a little bad that I am reviewing this now, since it's not released for a while, but I want it to be fresh in my head, and I promise I won't spoil it. The Swan Thieves begins by introducing us to Dr. Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist whose newest patient is Robert Oliver, a painter who attacked a painting at the National Gallery of Art. Robert has recently been divorced from his wife Kate, has abandoned his latest girlfriend, and now refuses to speak . Since his patient refuses to talk, Marlow must delve into Robert's personal life to find the mystery behind Robert's display of violence and lack of communication, as well as discover the identity of the woman he paints over and over. In doing so, Marlow discovers a long hidden secret and scandal in the world of 19th century art. This book is like an onion; fold after fragrant fold reveals something intriguing, spicy, and a little exotic. It's a mystery, an old fashioned love story, and a new romance all at once. It's not simply about a psychiatrist and his patient, it's about the pressure of people's expectations, and the lengths you go to to protect the ones you love. It's about art, and passion, and beauty in barren landscapes. Kostova artfully switches between the present dialogue of Marlow, who is telling this story to us, and the past entries of ancient letters and scenes from the 19th century, as well as chapters from other characters points of view. She skillfully rotates the other characters so that we're never subjected to second-hand information. It's almost as though there are several stories woven into one, but each of them as lovely as the one before, and the one after. It's a multilayered novel, with more than one question and answer that Marlow, and now us readers, are searching for. Why did Robert attack the painting? Who are the women in his life, and what do they mean to him? How are the ancient letters he reads over and over related? Is Robert actually ill, or is there more to his silence and obsession? I found myself wondering all of these things, and hypothesizing on my own as to what would happen. There came a point, about seven-eighths of the way through the book, when part of the puzzle fell into place and I realized my breathing was so shallow, and my shoulders were so hunched, that I was completely tense waiting for the piece of information I had just received. I had to swallow the lump in my throat and take a deep breath and relax before I passed out on the train. That would have been great, right? I am not sure which character I like best in this book, because truthfully Kostova's characters are so tangible and realistic that I can't not like any single one of them, even Robert. If you wanted her second book to follow the vampire theme from The Historian, you will be disappointed. But if you want a mystery, an old-fashioned honest-to-goodness mystery complete from fiction and imagination, then this is a book you must read. You will not regret it. I'm torn between 4 and 5 stars on this one. It's a fantastically wonderful, beautiful book and I can't wait to see what is next.

    25 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 31, 2009

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    Kostova does it again!

    This is her newest book since 2005's hit THE HISTORIAN, and unfortunately, I do not think she was quite as powerful this time around. Of course, I still loved it and devoured it in three days.

    Andrew Marlow is the psychiatrist assigned to artist Robert Oliver, after he is arrested for attempting to stab a painting in the National Gallery of Art. Oliver refuses to speak, and so Marlow begins to contact those in his life around him for answers. We learn about the man Robert was then and is now through the voices of these people - mostly women who loved him - and watch as Marlow becomes enveloped in the life of his new patient.

    THE SWAN THIEVES is full of very interesting characters, with well written mini histories as part of a larger story. Learning about Robert from the women who loved him was a bit like watching a car crash - I knew it was not going to end well and yet I could not keep from turning the pages. Mental illness is never easy to read about, but Kostova writes with grace and beauty that brings new life and even a certain amount of cleanliness to Oliver's decline.

    Elizabeth Kostova proves again that she is a master at storytelling.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

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    I'm struggling.

    I count the Historian as one of my favorite books. I can hardly believe the Swan Thieves is written by the same author. I wanted to like this, knew I would like this, but I can't finish it. I've read the first few chapters, thinking I would give it time and wait for the story to unfold but I can't stand any of the characters (except the one that won't talk) and it's taking forever to get the ball rolling. I'm bored and I hate to say that about this book--I'm sad to say that about this book. If she writes another, I won't be able to help but at least give it a try. The Historian was just that good.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2009

    The Pieces of the Puzzle Fit Beautifully!

    Elizabeth Kostova...does the author's name ring a bell? Unless you picked up her bestselling novel, "The Historian", it probably won't. "The Swan Thieves", to be published in January, is Kostova's only other published work. Unlike...oh, shall we say...James Patterson, she takes her time in crafting marvelously ingenious tales. It will probably take you awhile to get to the end of "The Swan Thieves". It should. The short chapters (all 106 of them) should be savored until you get to the wonderfully satisfying ending.

    The story centers around Dr. Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist, who is trying desperately to find a way to help his newest patient...the gifted artist, Robert Oliver. Oliver is placed under Marlow's care when he tries to stab a painting in a museum. Oliver will not speak, so it is up to Marlow to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Along the way, he interviews many people from Oliver's past, who, sometimes reluctantly, tell his story. Interspersed with present day, we are taken back in time to Paris to the late 1800s, where we are introduced to Olivier Vignot, an elderly painter, and his muse, Beatrice de Clerval, through a series of letters between them.

    Kostova masterfully alternates between the two stories, until we come to the heartbreaking conclusion and the connection between them. This is not a book that you can't put down; nor is it a book that you will breeze right through. But when the pieces come together, you will feel that you just read a very quality piece of literature.

    MY RATING - 5/5

    To see my rating scale and other reviews, please check out my blog:
    http://www.1776books.blogspot.com.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    Very Disappointing

    I have to agree with "msayyid" on this one! I was really looking forward to reading this book, as I enjoyed "The Historian" so much and the description of this one sounded interesting. But I was very disappointed. The beginning of the book was alright, but I felt that it just kept dragging on and on with nothing much of interest to say. Yes, the "forbidden love" story woven within the main tale was nice, but it seemed like the author didn't know what to do with it once she started. She implied a "reincarnation" theme (Robert questions it, as well as the oh-so-similar name theme with Robert Oliver and Olivier Vignot), but as one trudges through the novel, it comes to mean nothing. The main character is silent, and without much good cause other than a reference to "repentence" (???)--which falls by the wayside really. Kostova does a good job describing paintings, but the characters go pretty much nowhere for no reason. Any and all elements of a "real" connection between Robert Oliver and Beatrice are merely a creation of a fragile mind (Robert's), and any mystical elements that were alluded to at the start of the book vaporize into nothingness really. I just feel that both Dr Marlow AND I wasted our time trying to unravel the secret of "the silent painter" and, in reference to the book itself, would have been better off reading an actual Sherlock Holmes novel instead. :) I'm hoping Kostova writes another book because I did like her first one. Just because I didn't enjoy this one doesn't mean I give up on her. I think she has talent that is just better showcased in the right story; unfortunately, this wasn't it.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2012

    Why am I still reading this! It's become more of an endurance te

    Why am I still reading this! It's become more of an endurance test at this point. The book is very well written, but LABORIOUSLY so. It's a heavy read, giving you so many details about really very minor things that it begins to feel like a text book. I am an avid reader, and I find myself exhausted after a few chapters. There is really NOTHING left to the imagination about the settings and these characters. Several well-known cities are described throughout the narrative, and it gets a bit irritating to have such common settings described to me over and over again.
    Additionally, this is a multiple narrative, but every character seems to have the same voice. And it's so pretentious! Every stereotype, every preconceived notion you have about artists-- let's start the checklist: lived in NYC, atheist, unmarried because it's too (___), mentally disturbed, obsessed with France, sketching in cafes, become a teacher for income/hours, hands/clothes covered in paint, couch cruising..... Yeah, Swan Thieves hits all those.
    I paid for it, so I'll finish it, but this book is too detailed to get through with long sittings. I wouldn't recommend picking at it either, because it's SO detailed, you may forget something important between reads.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 27, 2010

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    Not WhatI Was Hoping For

    I was so excited to hear that this book was almost ready to ship! I had been waiting for this book ever since I finished reading "The Historian" which is oneo of my favorite books of all time.

    Unfortunately, I am probably going to buck the tide on this one, but I was very disappointed in it. The narratives were long. The book consists of chapters as told by several people and also through letters. Having the chapters titled by whose character is 'speaking' is a valuable thing because it would be difficult to follow if it had not been arranged this way. Elizabeth Kostova is a fabulous writer and her narratives are good but I just thought that is book had a lot of filler. Generally I give a book about 150 pages to interest me. If is hasn't by then I generally lay it aside to wither give away or try again at another time. I keep going though in reading this book because I could not believe that by page 200 I was not spellbound - as I had been with "The Historian". I plowed though this whole book. The end was a bit of a redemption - and the book, for me, picked up towards the end. I am not sure that I am glad or not that I continued reading this book until the end - there are so many wonderful books on my bulging shelves waiting to be read that I know would have kept me enthralled from beginning to end. I think I kept going because I thought that there HAD to be better pages ahead.

    I notice here on B&N that there are many VERY positive reviews - so I am, in fact, bucking the majority - but that's the way I call it. Now, I will once again wait with bated breath for Elizabeth's Kostova's next book to be available for pre-order and I am sure that I will order it as soon as I am able to. I hope it will thrill me more.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2010

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    bad bad bad

    This is not a good book. I sped through it just to find out what happens in the end and well NOTHING happens in the end. There is nothing to really take away from the story? except that maybe real people can become insanely obsessed with historical figures they've never met. There was no closure it just was awful! Just don't read it. Writing style is also mediocre.

    3 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

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    Swan Thieves is for Creative Writers and Readers

    I'm not as thrilled with The Swan Thieves as I was with Kostova's "The Historian".
    Character development is too slow. The silence of the thief in his mental illness is painfully slow. The male lead character, his psychologist, is too cautious. The female lead character probably is autobiographical, a side of Kostova that is different than her female lead character in "The Historian".

    As in "The Historian", creative writing is excellent. Personal characteristics of characters' physical appearance, neighborhood street scenes, and local cultural language are precise. Visual images keep the reader intimately present in the scene.

    Kostova got my attention with "The Historian". She will remain on my watch list.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 20, 2010

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    Slowness as Art and Art as Therapy

    The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova - let the reader beware (be aware) that this book is NOT something you hope to speed read through as it comes in at 105 chapters and at 561 pages and demands your undivided attention with exquisite details of people and places that unfold as though a carousel that moves forward - then back - then forward again. Kostova is the author - but in fact, she is the painter of a work of art that is left to the viewer to determine its beauty or significance in words upon a canvas that is the human landscape. You will encounter what has to be ostensibly the deepest journey into a clinical and therapeutic case with "Marlow" (yes, do think Joseph Conrad) as a psychiatrist who goes native into the lives of others who become his glass-bead game. Shall I compare Kostova to Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Angels Game) or Arturo Perez-Reverte (The Flanders Panel) or perhaps A.S. Byatt (Possession) or to Milan Kundera's (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) ?- yes, but very carefully. Kostova is emergent and an author with Proustian potential - but of her own accord and account.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    Incredible Book

    I am very disappointed to see any negative reviews of this book. Not all books need to have someone brutally murdered, or a boogeyman jumping out from behind a bush in order to make it interesting. In fact, what makes this book so great is that the author doesn't need to employ any of the cheesy techniques that many other not-so-great authors need. Kostova has written another amazing story, equally as amazing as The Historian.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    I loved this book!!

    Reading The Swan Thieves is like visiting a museum and being able to jump into the master paintings.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    The Swan Thieves

    from Murphy's Library

    This books is about art, but it's an artwork too.

    The Swan Thieves begins as psychiatrist Andrew Marlow tries to undercover the reasons that lead painter Robert Oliver to close off to the world. Robert tried to attack an artwork on National Gallery, and every treatment the doctors tried has failed. Robert doesn't speak, just lives in silence.

    When paint and brush are handed to him, the same imagine comes out of his hands over and over: a woman with dark hair. That doesn't make any more sense than Robert ramblings or the letters he reads all the time, and Marlow decides to do something different. He shouldn't do it, the personal life of his patients is something outside of his reach, but he starts an investigation interviewing every women of Robert's past anyway. This include his ex-wife and abandoned mistress.

    From then on, we have a narrative that doesn't let us take a breathe. The book is a roller coaster, full of surprises and plot twists. By the stories Marlow hears, we can start to put together the pieces of what lead Robert to this state of mind. It is a book for art lovers-and there's lots of types of art to love in the world-and what people do because of love. All characters are singular pieces of this incredible story.

    I just can't give it a five book rate because the ending is very, very lacking. Everything happens as if Elizabeth was tired of doing a suspense narrative and had to reveal all final pieces at once. The book doesn't lose its charms because of it, but has a break on its narrative that doesn't have to be there.

    As an artwork, we can see failures in this piece, but we can see the truly beauty of art on it too. Isn't this what an artist reachs for?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2011

    A phenomenal follow up to the Historian!

    I very much enjoyed Kostova's first novel, but this one eclipsed its predecessor. I like reading "smart" novels, fiction that is closer to (L)iterature than the average beach read. "The Swan Thieves" delivered, in a big way. It's poignant and witty, and very, very well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2010

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    Kostova does it again

    In quite a change of pace from her first novel "The Historian", Elizabeth takes us from Eastern Europe and the Dracula story to Washington, D.C., and a work of art. A patient is referred to a psychiatrist after attempting to slash a painting. The patient is non-commmunicative, the psychiatrist is an amateur artist who through his interest in art, the history of the painting and its artist, Kostova weaves a most interesting tale to explain the patient's attraction to this work of art. The author keeps the readers attention through all 550 plus pages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

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    Not Quite Enough

    I waited very impatiently for the arrival of this novel. I had enjoyed The Historian, forget Stephanie Myers, so much, I knew that this had to be as good. I wasn't disappointed; it is a great read. I just didn't like it as well as her first novel. I found the character of the doctor to be a little too involved in his patient's life, although the story couldn't have progressed without that element. I also struggled with the idea of him latching on to the ex-girlfriend of the patient as well. But the idea of the artistic characters living through time was incredibly done.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    A marvelous read!

    The Swan Thieves is another fascinating story beautifully told by Elizabeth Kostova! With characters and settings lovingly and realistically created the story immerses the reader in an obsession that connects two worlds one hundred and twenty years apart. The Swan Thieves with Kostova's beautiful flowing writing is a book I found difficult to put down. It is a joy to read and a book well worth rereading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2010

    Intriguing and moving

    An ultimate love story compelled by a letters of the late 1800's. The letters are the key element that drives the obsession of a current artist almost to the illusion of being mad. The personalities of the characters where presented with much depth that brought a visual while reading the book. It gave me an interest to read more of the history of Art wanting to appreciate the heartfelt embrace each artist posseses with hand and brush. The passion of the artist Robert Oliver for unveiling the unjust to a genius artist Beatrice de Clerval. A wonderful story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2010

    Add to my all time favorites

    I truly enjoyed this book. In fact so much that I have gave it to one of my friends who loves French things and has just begun painting. The imagery was amazing! The flow of the characters was exciting. I felt the pain this trouble painter felt as well as the confusion of the one who loved him. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves art, history and relationships. Elizabeth Kostova wrote this book from a man's perspectives and did it superbly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    The Swan Thieves

    I gave The Swan Thieves four stars because it really was a nice book. It was an easy read and really turned out to be a romance rather than a mystery. Who knew? Ms. Kostova's writing style draws you in and allows you to know her characters well. I would recommend you check this book out at the library.
    With all that being said, this book does not equal The Historian, Ms. Kostova's first book. I had high hopes, but the story and plot never really attain any level of the dramatic.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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